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Pressure on Ottawa youth a factor in high rate of suicide attempts

Ottawa Public Health is working on ways to curb troubling numbers related to suicide attempts among young people.
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2018-02-28 City of Ottawa flag1 MV
City of Ottawa flag outside of a heritage building on Elgin St., February 28, 2018. (Photo/ Mike Vlasveld)

Health experts in Ottawa believe a better job needs to be done of encouraging young people to step away from stressers, such as social media.

In its Status of Mental Health in Ottawa Report 2018, Ottawa Public Health found that one in nine students, between Grades 7 and 12, attempted suicide in 2017. That adds up to about 1,300 young people.

Of those students, 60% reported they wanted to talk to someone about a mental or emotional problem but did not know where to turn.

Ottawa Public Health's Mental Health Team Supervisor Ben Leikin told The Rick Gibbons Show on 1310 NEWS, the big take-away from all the stories that OPH heard from local youth, is that they feel like they're under a lot of pressure.

"The social media use, the pressures to succeed and be perfect -- they're feeling it more than youths have felt it in the past," he explained. "That's something we want to dig a little deeper [into] and learn more about so that we can do positive interventions and try to tackle this."

Leiken said the OPH also needs to make sure that people know where to find support and how to easily access it.

"A great starting point is Distress Centre Ottawa," he added. "The YSB, Youth Services Bureau, walk-in clinics and crisis lines, all the way over to community mental health centres and hospitals."

The health team supervisor said it's been proven that young people who spend more than two hours a day on social media sites are at an increased risk of suicide.

That's why Leiken believes it's important that OPH has a presence online, to "combat some of the negative" and connect with youth in the community. Through those online connections, OPH plans to do a better job encouraging Ottawa's young people to put the phone or laptop away and spend larger chunks of time outside.

"Go enjoy the beautiful outdoors, play sports with friends, play music outside, get outside and enjoy face-to-face interaction," said Leiken.

Suicide attempts among Ottawa's youth have risen consistently over the last 10 years, and even though the 2017 suicide attempt numbers are down 1% from a previous report, Ottawa Public Health still sees the current figures as way too high.

The positive that can be drawn from this year's OPH mental health report is that close to two-thirds of Ottawa residents 12 and older rated their mental health as "very good" or excellent."

Listen to the full conversation with Ottawa Public Health's Mental Health Team Supervisor Ben Leikin:




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